The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016 was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate 95 to 3 on Tuesday, and is now moving onto the House of Representatives. The bill is designed to reauthorize the FAA and its programs through the 2017 fiscal year. This is a significant step for the drone industry because it includes how the FAA will continue its work to integrate drones into the national airspace, and what will be on the forefront of its priorities in the upcoming year.
“Today’s passage of an FAA reauthorization measure by the Senate is a critical milestone for accelerating the civil and commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems, as well as expanding collaborative research and operations. We thank the Senate leadership for bringing this important bill to the floor,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
The bill addresses the urgent need for a regulatory framework in order to ensure that the United States can keep up with its global competitors who are already taken advantage of the benefits of drones.
“While Congress addresses reauthorization, the FAA needs to use all available means to finalize the small UAS rule immediately, and without any further delays,” said Wynne. “Once this happens, we will have an established regulatory framework for UAS that will allow for more widespread commercial use of the technology.”
Also included in the bill is an amendment to create a new class of air carriers designed to utilize drones in order to deliver goods and services to consumers through beyond visual line of sight and nighttime hours.
Other provisions include the creation of an unmanned traffic-management system, a micro drone category for low-risk drones, increased protection around airport airspace, and increased drone safety provisions.
While drone lobbyists, supporters and groups are commending the Senate's efforts to pass the FAA Reauthorization Act, others are still concerned about how the bill will negatively impact the drone industry. According to the Drone Manufacturers Alliance, if the bill is passed with Section 2124, it will greatly hinder drone innovation in the United States.
“Section 2124 of the Senate-passed bill, if enacted into law, would reverse the Federal Aviation Administration’s risk-based approach by requiring every make and model of every UAS in America to be approved by the FAA,” said Kara Calvert, director of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance. “As drafted, the section would create a bottleneck for innovating and releasing new technology without increasing aviation safety. UAS, like most technology, has a short and constantly evolving development cycle. Forcing manufacturers to lock in specific standards before going to market and then restricting the ability to update those products over time will limit innovation in aviation safety rather than improve it.”
The pressure is on the House now to approve the Senate’s version of the bill. The House has been working on its own FAA reauthorization efforts, but recently hit a standstill after it was proposed that the U.S. air traffic control system be separate from the FAA.
“In a complicated bill like this, it doesn’t contain everything that everybody wants. But we hope our counterparts in the House will take up and pass this bill without delay,” Senator Bill Nelson told the Hill. “We’ve given them a good, bipartisan blueprint.”